Why OKRs don’t work for many companies  

Why OKRs don't work

It’s time we talked about something most of us in the business world have quietly acknowledged—OKRs often don’t work. Or, in the best-case scenario, we need a great amount of time, energy and effort to make them work. 

Now, if OKRs are working well for your organization, congratulations—and by all means do keep using them. 

But, as we learned in the last four years, that’s not the reality for the majority of businesses across different industries. 

It’s not you, it’s the OKRs. 

What is probably the most popular and commonly used framework today for strategy execution for businesses of all sizes and industries has some major downsides that affect your business long-term. OKRs promise many benefits and are like a one-size-fits-all outfit—but the thing is, it doesn’t always fit. And it makes sense if you think about it. 

OKRs are developed for and based on large organizations, usually US-based data-driven tech businesses that often have significant—if not unlimited—resources available.  

Why don’t they work for us and many others? There are many reasons, but we’ll focus on three main ones that we noticed most during interviews with several C-level leaders over the years and after reflecting carefully on our own past experience: 

They’re too complex. Sure, in theory, OKRs help bring everyone, from the C-suite to junior employees, under one grand strategic vision from which departmental goals and KPIs derive. In practice, however, the complexity of the OKR framework turns goals and objectives into high-level corporate jargon and makes the workforce feel detached from strategy. The employees end up lacking relevant information for situational understanding and cannot make a bottom-up contribution. The overarching vision is too far removed from them to be tangible. Ask employees working on OKRs if they feel like what they’re doing actively contributes to the company’s strategy execution. Or even better, ask them what the company strategy is. Chances are, they won’t know the answer—and it’s not their fault. 

It takes long to onboard and operationalize. It’s not rare that the first 6 to 12 months of OKR implementation and tracking are seen as a ‘trial period’. In a way, that makes sense—it takes a long time to not only get everyone acquainted with the new way of working, but also to choose and define the right objectives and key results, discuss metrics, combine the new strategic visions with the work in progress, prioritize action points and ultimately, bridge individual, departmental and company objectives. However, many companies don’t have the time or resources to experiment for so long. Not to mention that the time spent on the OKR method is often time unaccounted for—and not registered within the framework. 

Employees are not motivated. While initially employees might see the benefit of having clear goals for the quarter ahead of them, it often doesn’t last long. The OKR method tends to focus on quantitative metrics and streamlining people with strategy, sidelining personal development. As a result, actual alignment and commitment to strategy are lacking. Bottom-up input, technically a part of the OKR method, is often disregarded—if not even made impossible—in companies that have basic or more complex hierarchies. As an employee, your departmental and individual OKRs usually end up being what higher management expects rather than your personal contribution toward solving the real-world problems you face daily. As a result, chasing an objective far removed from you only adds up to more stress, less motivation and decreased productivity—not exactly the roadmap to sustainable success. 

They hinder teamwork. Let’s be honest—aligning company, department and team objectives is hard work. And unfortunately, OKRs don’t deliver on their promise to bring everyone together—quite the contrary. Departments that need to move fast are the first ones to reject the framework, as it directly restricts their ability to perform and deliver the results they need. Take engineering teams, for example. Combining an often-Agile way of working with static and restrictive OKRs rarely works as planned. On a team level, defining objectives becomes a competition on who can get more visibility. Discussions about what the key results are feel endless, and often create extra tension in already stressed-out teams. Not to mention the operational departments, which are often left out due to an overfocus on strategic alignment. Ultimately, employees often end up feeling they are set up for failure, if not even against each other.  

They’re easily abandoned—and that’s bad news. It’s more common than you’d think for companies to give up on using OKRs after 6-12 months of struggle and massive implementation efforts. The result? Decreased employee motivation and mistrust, along with losing market traction and customer focus. 

Business management operations need changing—and fast.  

Taking a step back allows us to see the new realities of our business world. In today’s dynamic landscape, strategic execution often falls flat. This became a universal challenge for companies, regardless of their size or industry. Traditional strategic frameworks, such as OKRs, are ineffective when implemented in the real world under VUCA, leading to unfortunate issues.  

The numbers show this, too. A staggering 40% of organizations struggle to align their strategies. Around 30% of companies have difficulties coordinating efforts across departments. An alarming 8 out of 10 companies struggle to exit declining ventures or discontinue unsuccessful initiatives promptly. Ultimately, strategies executed ineffectively can potentially lead to significant revenue losses ranging from 40 to 60%.1  

This is not to say that OKRs are at fault for all this, of course—that would be naïve to say. The method has its strengths and has helped companies better themselves when compared to activating without OKRs. They do provide a framework for streamlining strategy to a certain extent and bring departments together around a central vision while offering guidance down to the individual level. All these are good reasons why OKRs have been—and still are—used by so many organizations. 

However, when considering the staggering statistics above and the many ways in which OKRs fall short, we were left wondering if there isn’t a better alternative for companies that want to work differently— fast, efficiently, tapping into their people’s potential while centralizing work around a strategy that everyone believes in and understands. People are central to how well a business performs—they can be the main competitive advantage of a business, the ace up your sleeve. Basic human needs and behaviors can also negatively impact a business’s development, if not taken into account or given the importance they deserve. 

That is why we decided to create a new people-centric method for strategy execution, one that puts people’s needs first and addresses the shortcomings of OKRs. One that empowers all people to contribute, make decisions and drive the business forward. 

It took us over 4 years of real-life execution, literature reviews, consulting and pilot programs—and we’re now ready to share it with the world. 

It’s been the secret ingredient behind our success with has-to-be—securing a Series A €12M financing round and landing a €250M market exit two years later, Austria’s biggest to date. We called it Art of Acceleration, or AOA, for short. 

Final Thought 

In business, we found that one truth rings loud and clear—success highly depends on people. Our approach helps build strong, team-focused and performance-driven companies by encouraging the careful execution of visionary strategies. This is not just theory—AOA is already implemented in over 10 companies, helping them accelerate their success. 

And now, we’re thrilled to share it with you too. 

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